The Islanders' top head-coaching candidates

ByEmily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Welcome to the Lou Lamoriello show, New York Islanders fans.

The veteran executive joined the organization two weeks ago, after relinquishing power with the Toronto Maple Leafs. And it didn't take long for Lamoriello to regain that voice with the Islanders. Lamoriello was officially tabbed as the GM this week, while Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight were relieved of their duties (though, dubiously, will stay with the organization).

Now Lamoriello has two pressing items on his agenda: retain superstar center John Tavares, and hire a head coach. Here's a primer for some of the names Lamoriello will consider for item No. 2.

Alain Vigneault

There's no rush for the former New York Rangers bench boss to find a new gig. Vigneault had two years remaining on his contract with New York when he was fired this offseason, and is making decent money. Vigneault is a veteran coach whose best work comes with an already-seasoned roster. He's been employed as a head coach by three teams over the last 20 years, and is afforded the luxury of being picky about his next gig.

But with an Islanders roster that is ready to win (if they keep Tavares, add a defenseman or two, and shore up goaltending), the Islanders job might be it.

Barry Trotz

He's perhaps the sexiest name on the list -- especially with how the Washington Capitals' season has unfolded. It's the league's worst-kept secret that Trotz does not have a contract for next season, and management was likely going to move on from the 55-year-old veteran.

And then Washington kept winning, and suddenly GM Brian MacLellan is in a pickle.

Now, it seems foolish for Washington not to offer Trotz a new deal, especially as he has the respect of his players. But what if he wants to walk away on his own terms? Since New York is the only open vacancy, it's the only place where Trotz can find leverage.

D.J. Smith

One candidate with whom Lou Lamoriello is quite familiar. Smith has been a Maple Leafs assistant coach since 2015. In March, the NHLPA released a player poll, in which one of the questions was: Which current assistant coach should be the next head coach? Somewhat surprisingly, Smith received the most votes (8.3 percent of respondents).

The 41-year-old could join Paul MacLean, Todd McLellan and Bill Peters as Mike Babcock protégés who graduated to being head coaches.

Todd Reirden

In that same NHLPA player poll, Reirden finished second to Smith as the current assistant coach who should be a head coach next. And hey, the Capitals agreed -- they were clearly grooming Reirden as Trotz's successor. Washington had been territorial over the 46-year-old Reirden, blocking him from interviewing for head coaching vacancies last offseason (the Caps promoted him to associate head coach a year earlier).

It might be too awkward for Reirden to stay on under Trotz if the latter is re-upped. Reirden has seen what it takes to win the Metropolitan Division; perhaps he can use that intel to boost the Islanders.

Sheldon Keefe

Keefe, 37, is currently coaching the Toronto Marlies in the AHL Calder Cup Final, and is someone Lamoriello no doubt knows a bit from their days with the Maple Leafs. Keefe followed GM Kyle Dubas from Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL to Toronto, and they have a mutual affinity for analytics. He's a former NHL player with a tireless drive to succeed. A true rising star ... but one stuck behind a supernova behind the Leafs' bench with a long-term contract, in Mike Babcock.

If would be Christmas morning for the Toronto media if a unified force of Dubas' mentor and his favorite coach turned the Islanders into contenders while the Leafs languished.

Scott Stevens

Stevens, 54, shared the bench with Lamoriello as two-thirds of that strange coaching hydra in New Jersey for one season, with Adam Oates filling out the group. He also spent a season with the Minnesota Wild as an assistant to Bruce Boudreau.

The captain of three Stanley Cup winners for Lamoriello with the New Jersey Devils, he was expected to play some role with the Islanders after Lou took over what was the worst defensive team in the NHL last season (3.57 goals-against average). Perhaps it will be as an assistant; or perhaps he's ready for the big job.

John Madden

Like Stevens, a vital member of Stanley Cup championship teams that Lamoriello built, as a checking center. The 43-year-old served as an assistant coach for three seasons with the Florida Panthers, and just completed his second campaign at the helm of the Cleveland Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

He has the experience, he's a known commodity for Lamoriello and, perhaps most of all, he's an NCAA product. Something, as we know, Lou is rather fond of.

Darryl Sutter

Last seen coaching the 2016-17 Los Angeles Kings, the 59-year-old coach has 1,285 games and two Stanley Cups to his credit. He said last year that he was willing to join either a rebuilding team or a contender as long as he felt the fit was right. Again, his prowess as a puck possession-oriented defensive coach is something the Islanders need, but does Sutter want to live that far away from the ol' farm in Alberta?

Rick Bowness

One of the more interesting candidates. Bowness was the head coach of the Islanders from 1996 to 1998, failing to make the playoffs in either season. But since then, he was an assistant coach from 2006 to 2013 with the Vancouver Canucks, and spent six seasons as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he was responsible for their defense, before being let go after this season.

The 63-year-old has learned plenty since his early coaching stints in Winnipeg, Boston, Ottawa and Long Island, and was a finalist for the Anaheim job that went to Randy Carlyle. As ex-coaches returning to the big job go, Bowness isn't Peter Laviolette ... but he isn't Mike Milbury, either.

Dave Tippett

The former head coach of the Arizona Coyotes, the 56-year-old Tippett has been following the NHL closely since his removal in 2017, in anticipation of getting back behind the bench. A defensive-oriented coach who could help with the Islanders' issues on the back end. Keep in mind that Tippett was available in 2010 when Lamoriello needed a coach in New Jersey, but Lou never reached out to him (former Devil John MacLean got the gig).

Michel Therrien

Oh, now this is fun. Therrien was fired during the 2016-17 season by the Montreal Canadiens, who snatched up Claude Julien to replace him. He's been to the playoffs in five of his last eight seasons ... of course, two of those playoff misses were because he was fired midseason in Pittsburgh and Montreal.

He was rumored to be on Lamoriello's short list in 2010 when the Devils needed a coach. If nothing else, he would satisfy Lou's longstanding Habs fetish. But Therrien, hilariously, does have one more year left on his contract with Montreal; like Vigneault, he's literally being paid not to coach.